Mgwalana Pass takes its name from a small village on the eastern side of the traverse. It is also sometimes spelled as uMgwalana. The pass is located on an unnamed gravel road which connects the R410 near Cala to the R58, which is the main access route between Elliot and Engcobo in the Eastern Cape. The road is not regularly maintained and is in a poor condition, but could be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather conditions allow. Like most of the roads in this area, the pass offers up some beautiful views over the surrounding landscape, as well as a delightful glimpse into the lifestyle of true rural South Africans.
This tough little gravel road pass has some seriously steep sections, and could present a significant challenge in the ascending mode for both adventure bikers and 4x4 enthusiasts, particularly during or after inclement weather. The pass is located south of Cala on an unnamed dirt road in the backwaters of the Eastern Cape, on the access route between the KwaGoniwe Tyaliti Pass and the Kwaaimans Pass, and takes its name from the river which marks the eastern extremity. It is worth seeking out if you enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of rural South Africa, but we recommend that you make use of a high-clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicle.
This 3,6 km long official pass lies along the north-south axis, adjacent to the western side of a large, dark rocky outcrop about 70 km north-east of Fraserberg. This is a very minor pass and only has an average gradient of 1:72 and is much more of a simple farm road, than a mountain pass, but it's an official pass, so we filmed and documented it. There are no real dangers, like steep descents, drop-offs or sharp corners, but like all gravel roads, it can change its mood instantly after rain. Be wary of corrugations, ruts, washaways and as always livestock on the road.
What this little pass lacks in vital statistics, it more than compensates for in its isolated location and spectacularly open vistas, the likes of which can only be found in the Karoo. The name translates into Honey Nest Heights or Beehive Heights.
This is another of those Northern Cape passes, which leaves one wondering how this ever became an official pass, as there is really not much to it all with an altitude variance of only 16m and an average gradient of 1:150, it's hardly going to get the adrenaline flowing. The countryside is however, well worth any distance you will have travelled getting there and offers space, tranquility and the most wonderful sense of timelessness that only the Karoo can offer. In addition this is the perfect area to test your navigation skills as many of the intersections are unmarked, so getting lost here is a piece of cake.
Stop next to a windmill under the shade of a thorn tree and allow the Rooihoogte to sink into your soul.
This fairly long pass of 7,3 km has an interesting profile and consists of two summits and a twisty section down into a narrow poort. Although the average gradient is a very mild 1:140, the short descent down into the river valley at the 4,3 km mark gets as steep as 1:12. This road offers a wide variety of scenery and is one of the more interesting of the isolated Northern Cape passes. The name must have an interesting origin, but we were unable to find a single trace of where the name originated. About 6 km south of this pass, there is quite a tricky river crossing, which could be the undoing of many a vehicle.
This small pass is named after the mountain Kariegakop [1439,7m] which lies immediately to the north and forms a neck with the much bigger Kareekasberge to the south. The pass runs along the east-west axis and offers some very stiff gradients on the western side of the summit, where there are wonderful views waiting for the patient traveller - especially the view looking back into the west is wonderful. This pass is best driven in the morning from west to east to maximise on the tranquil Karoo scenery.
It's not a long pass at 3,4 km and it only takes 5 minutes to complete it. The road was in good condition on the day of filming, but like all gravel roads, conditions can change rapidly depending on the weather. The P2270 connects with the R354 off the Oupoort Pass, then branches off into the east into a maze of farm roads, eventually terminating in Williston. You will need a good GPS loaded with Tracks4Africa and will have done some advance planning before setting off into this part of the Northern Cape.
The naming of this long and interesting pass causes plenty of confusion. On the government map it is labelled as Systershoog. This name has been inadvertantly altered by several map sources to read Syfershoog or Syfershoogte. To add to the confusion, it is known locally as the Maermanskloof Pass, the Spoegrivier Pass and the Kharkams Pass. In Namaqualand the manner of word construction is somewhat different to the rest of South Africa and the naming of any word ending in 'heights' is called a 'hoog' as opposed to the more grammatically correct 'hoogte' Thus many names in this region end with the word hoog, which is the correct official name.
This pass is long at 16,2 km and contains 38 bends, corners and curves - some of which are very sharp and have negative banking. The road follows a very different vertical profile to the usual classic pass shape and ends in a steep descent down into the Spoegrivier valley. It connects Kharkams in the east with Spoegrivier in the west and provides an alternative (and much slower) route to Hondeklipbaai.
This old pass which dates back to 1880 is exceptionally well designed with fairly easy gradients. It has been realigned and changed over the last 120 years and has the stamp of Mr. T.W.Bain on the first map plot. At 6,6 km it's not that long, but due to the slow speeds necessary, it takes a fair bit of time to complete the pass. Part of the allure of driving this pass, is the not inconsiderable challenge of navigating your way back to any main road from the foot of the pass. The pass displays a substantial altitude variance of 480m and produces a stiff average gradient of 1:14
Whilst a 4x4 is not necessary to drive the pass, we strongly suggest a vehicle with good ground clearance, otherwise your vehicle will be likely to sustain some damage. Due to the complexity of finding a way out through the plains at the bottom of the pass, we suggest that this pass only be driven in the descending mode.
If you're a gravel pass fan, then put this one on your bucket list. It's for the purist.
This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer.
Mhlwane Pass is named after the river which marks the start of the pass on the eastern side, also sometimes spelled as “Mhlwana”. It would usually be driven in conjunction with Collings Pass, as they are on the same road and follow one another almost back-to-back. The pass has a simple low-high profile and has fairly mild gradients throughout, making it an easy drive for most vehicles in good weather. It offers excellent views over the KwaZulu-Natal grasslands towards the high mountains in the west and to the north, where the nearby Normandien Pass is located.
Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.
We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.